Christians in Nepal are exulting over the national parliament's dramatic decision on May 18 to abolish the monarchy and declare the state secular, wiping out its tag as a Hindu kingdom.

"Our joy is beyond words," Simon Pandey, general secretary of National Churches Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN), told CT. The House of Representatives' unanimous vote, he said, will have "far-reaching impact on the life of the church." Most notably, Christians can now register their congregations and build church buildings.

The parliament has also made the king a taxpayer, abolished his privy council, and stripped him of all executive powers, including command of the armed forces.

Massive pro-democracy protests forced King Gyanendra to give up absolute power on April 24. He reinstated the parliament he had dissolved four years ago and swore in a popular government led by a coalition of opposition parties.

More than 1 million protesters choked Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, for three weeks in April. The king yielded only after 18 democracy protesters died and more than 5,000 suffered injuries in clashes with the police and army.

"Things have moved much faster than anyone could dream of," said Kalai Bahadur Rokaya, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Nepal (NCCN). NCCN and NCFN between them account for most of the 1,500 tiny congregations scattered in the Hindu-majority nation in the foothills of the Himalayas. Christians number little more than 700,000 among Nepal's population of at least 25 million.

"For the last 10 years, there has been no prayer meeting or worship service in our churches without specific prayer for the nation," said Narayan Sharma, Gospel for Asia's national leader for Nepal.

Under the Hindu monarchy's constitution, ...

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